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I sometimes wonder how CEOs or Founders of companies like Microsoft and Oracle manage the overall technology movement and product link-up.

Take for example Oracle, it started with the database only and now, when you open their official site, the bibliography opens. Take for instance, Oracle database 11g. The core database is continuously improving and new features are being added. At the same time you need to keep a vigil on the current market trends, needs and competitors. Does Larry monitors each and every activity of technology advancement? What about new ideas and innovations? Who is responsible for these?

Another example that puzzles me is .NET. With a new thing launching every second day, who is the .NET father and who suggests these guys to add classes for this and that. Who gives direction to the overall product movement and also integration with the other products? This is simply a beauty. This seamless integration or communication between the products and the technology as a whole is remarkable. (Not a biased view).

Few years back I read a book titled: Microsoft Secrets. The author writes that at Microsoft, even the very senior person has to code because until and unless you are able to code, you can't better run a software company. I sometimes think Ballmer codes or not and what about Bill? Is he coding another OS at home?

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You're overrating Ballmer and Gates I think. They don't code (and maybe that's why they both are among the richest people in the world? :) –  mojuba Nov 10 '10 at 21:37
@mojuba: No they used to code and that's why able to manage coders. Same is true for Larry. –  RPK Nov 10 '10 at 21:39
Dunno about Ballmer, but Gates apparently used to be a pretty good programmer in his own right. Not nearly as good a programmer as a businessman, though; growing a company is not easy in the least. –  David Thornley Nov 10 '10 at 22:31
Eric Schmidt (Google CEO) is a really good programmer, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lex_(software);. Indeed, top managers tend to be real experts who just happened to become managers. Those who aspire for management just for its own sake don't get too far. –  Joonas Pulakka Nov 11 '10 at 7:51

2 Answers 2

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The question you are asking is essentially: "Where does innovation come from".

The answer depends on the company. Some companies have whole departments for that (which seems like a contradiction in terms), and don't actually innovate very well. They tend to be a little conservative, and you need to get ideas through a bunch of committees who never have ideas themselves, they just squash what comes to them.

Some companies have innovation as a guiding principle in everything they do - good and famous examples include Google and WL Gore & Associates. Such companies have to work very hard to preserve such a culture as they grow in size. In such companies - ideas for innovation can come from anyone - including the cleaner or the cook in the works canteen.

There needs to be some supporting things to foster this - a means of genuinely logging ideas, a means of encouraging people to go off and work on them for a while (play time BEFORE it gets the corporate scrutiny). Such approaches are expensive (people going off playing) but can lead to very substantial rewards.

Many companies formalise all this with a Product Manager or Program Manager who is supposed to have the ideas, direct the general effort, and so on. My own view is that this relies too much on the wisdom of one person who will never HAVE all the good ideas, and who can too easily steer things according to their own agenda. Sometimes this can be customer driven - which can be good and bad. Customers in general don't have the same level of radical new out-there ideas, they tend to look at existing products and make wish-lists for incremental improvements. This can be very important, but its not the only approach that should be considered.

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In theory, this is the job of program and/or product managers, but in many companies such as Google, even the simple developer can suggest innovations.

Gmail is one product that emerged like that.

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